One perfect red rose, a one ' way ticket to Stockholm, and a cryptic ' message ' consisting of two Latin words intrigue art historian Vicky Bliss ' as they were precisely intended to do. Beautiful, brilliant and, as always, dangerously inquisitive, Vicky recognizes the handiwork of her former lover, the daring jewel thief John Smythe. So she takes the bait, eagerly following Smythe ' s lead in the hope of finding a lost treasure. But the trail begins at a priceless fifth century chalice which will place Vicky at the mercy of a gang of ruthless criminals who have their eyes on an even more valuable prize. And the hunt threatens to turn deadly on a remote island, where a captive Vicky Bliss must lead an excavation into the distant past ' and where digging too deep for the truth could dig her own grave.
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November 01, 2000
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Excerpt from Silhouette in Scarlet by Elizabeth Peters
THIS TIME IT WASN'T MY FAULT.
On several previous occasions I have found myself up to my neck in trouble (and that's pretty high up, because I am almost six feet tall), which might have been avoided if I had displayed a little ladylike discretion. This time, however, I was innocent of everything except stupidity. They say some people attract trouble. I attract people who attract trouble.
Take Herr Professor Dr. Schmidt, for instance. You wouldn't think to look at him that he could be so dangerous. Physically he's a combination of the Wizard of Oz and Santa Clausýshort, chubby, disgustingly cute. Intellectually he ranks as one of the world's greatest historians, respected by all his peers. EmotionallyýAh, there's the rub. The non-professional parts of Schmidt's brain are permanently frozen at fourteen years of age. He thinks of himself as D'Artagnan, James Bond, Rudolf Rassendyll, Clint Eastwood, and Cyrano de Bergerac, all rolled into one. This mental disability of Schmidt has been partially responsible for propelling me into a number of sticky situations.
Yet Schmidt's profession, which is also mine, sometimes requires its practitioners to enter a world far removed from the ivory towers of academia. He's the director of the National Museum in Munich; I work under him, specializing in art history. Nothing duller or more peaceful than a museum? Tell that to any museum director and listen to him giggle hysterically.
There is a flourishing black market in stolen art objects, from historic gems to great paintings. Murph the Surf, who lifted the Star of India from New York's American Museum of Natural History in 1964, was a veritable amateur compared to modern thieves, who have to contend with closed-circuit television, ultrasonic waves, photoelectric systems, and other science-fiction-type devices. They contend admirably. According to one estimate, seventy-five percent of all museums suffer at least one major theft per year.
Sometimes the stolen masterpieces are held for ransom. Insurance companies don't like to publicize the amounts they shell out for such purposes, but when you consider the prices even second-rate Great Masters are bringing at auction these days, you can see that this branch of the trade pays very well. Other treasures simply vanish. It is believed that criminal organizations such as the Mafia are investing heavily in "hot" art, storing it up like gold and silver coins. And there are private collectors who like to sit in their hidden, air-conditioned vaults gloating over beauty that is theirs alone.